1. To determine the mode of action of doxapram in man we have measured ventilation, oxygen uptake, CO2 production, hypoxic and hypercapnic ventilatory responses in six healthy men before and during intravenous infusion to maintain a constant plasma level.
2. Doxapram changed neither resting oxygen uptake nor CO2 production but produced a substantial increase in resting ventilation at both levels of end-tidal CO2 studied.
3. Doxapram increased the ventilatory response to isocapnic hypoxia from − 0.8 ± 0.4 litre min−1 (%Sao2)−1 to −1.63 ± 0.9 litres min−1 (%Sao2)−1. This was similar to the increase in hypoxic sensitivity which resulted from raising the end-tidal CO2 by 0.5 kPa without adding doxapram.
4. The slope of the ventilatory response to rebreathing CO2 rose from 11.6 ± 5.3 litres min−1 kPa−1 to 20,4 ± 9.8 litres min−1 kPa−1 during doxapram infusion.
5. The marked increase in the ventilatory response to CO2 implies that doxapram has a central action, but the potentiation of the hypoxic drive also suggests that the drug acts on peripheral chemoreceptors, or upon their central connections, at therapeutic concentrations in normal unanaesthetized subjects.